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Arenga pinnata (Wurmb) Merr.
by Mrs. Sarah Nabila Binti Rosli
© Sarah Nabila Rosli

Arecaceae is the palm family that has some economically important species, such as the oil palm (Elaies guineensis), coconut (Cocos nucifera) and sago (Metroxylon sagu). The agricultural sector benefits from the utilisation of palms, which in turn provides various benefits and sources of income to the community. There are more than 200 genera of palm comprising 2600 species widely scattered in tropical and subtropical countries. A species, Arenga pinnata is widely distributed in Southeast Asia and grows in dry secondary to primary forests.

Arenga pinnata is known as Enau and Kabong among the Malay community. This species is easily distinguished from its trunk appearance covered with black fibres from the old leaf bases. The palm can grow up to 20 meters in height with more than 100 pairs of pinnate leaves. The inflorescences of Enau are large drooping in descending order from the uppermost leaf axil that can lasted for two years. Every single node can produce a single inflorescence. The flowers are yellowish with an unpleasant smell. The fruit is drupe-type, consists of two or three seeds and turned yellow when matured.

Products from Enau are popular among Asians and the entire plant has the same economic value of a coconut tree. The root of this species is also beneficial for soil erosion control, and the extraction from the root is utilised as a component in certain insect repellents (Kurniawan et al., 2018). The old tree's trunk is processed to produce sago-like flour, which is used in a variety of cuisines (Mogea et al., 1991). The fibrous base of the leaves can be used for making tough ropes, brushes and brooms. Some ethnics in China used the leaves to build the traditional roof and cigarette additives and in Indonesia, fibres from the roots were used to make cloaks, mantles and hats (Mogea et al., 1991).

The sap gained from the cutting of the inflorescences had been widely used for making Gula Kabung, nira (local drink), alcohol, vinegar and as a source of biofuel (bioethanol). For the health-conscious, Gula Kabung can be an alternative way to replace white sugar, which tastes better, as a nutrient-rich and low glycaemic sweetener if it is to be taken in moderate quantities (Adams, 2010). To prevent the nira from getting sour, lime and small pieces of bark from the jackfruit tree were added into it (Heryani & Nugroho, 2015). The fruit of Enau can be added to dessert but it has to be boiled to remove the exudates from the outer layer of the fruit.

With the immense potential for making a variety of products, the prospect of cultivation and commercialization of the palm should be explored as currently, the species is harvested from the wild. This is to ensure an uninterrupted of supplies as well as to create a sustainable harvesting regime.

References

  1. Adams, M. (15/06/2010). Why Organic Palm Sugar is the Next Big Thing in Natural Sweeteners. Natural News. Retrieved May 09, 2022, from https://www.naturalnews.com/028996_palm_sugar_natural_sweetener.html
  2. Heryani, H. & Nugroho, A. (2015). Study of Yellow Root (Arcangelisia flava Merr) as a Natural Food Additive with Antimicrobial and Acidity-stabilizing Effects in the Production Process of Palm Sugar. Procedia Environmental Sciences, 22, 346-350.
  3. Kurniawan, T., Jayanudin, I.K. & Firdaus, M.A. (2018). Palm Sap Sources, Characteristics and Utilization in Indonesia. Journal of Food and Nutrition Research, 6(9), 590-597.
  4. Mogea, J., Seibert, B. & Smits, W. (1991). Multipurpose Palms: The Sugar Palm (Arenga pinnata (Wurmb) Merr.). Agroforestry Systems, 13, 111-129.
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